Trouble in Kollywood

Kamal Haasan  

On May 1, Kamal Haasan’s Rs. 60-crore Uttama Villain was to release worldwide. The film was premiered in Dubai on Thursday night and was well-received in the international market. But fans of Kamal Haasan in India, especially Tamil Nadu, the core market for Uttama Villain, were shocked when it turned out to be a “no show” on Friday. Theatres across TN had sold tickets in advance for the opening day. At the popular Albert in Chennai, fans who went into the auditorium refused to vacate their seats as shows got cancelled. The grand gala ‘First Day First Show’ (FDFS) organised by fans at Woodlands did not happen.

There was outrage and dismay across the state that ‘Ulaga Nayagan’ films always faced release hiccups. Remember Kamal’s last release Vishwaroopam, too, was mired in controversy and released in the state only two weeks after its international release? All sorts of political conspiracies were read into the Uttama Villain release fiasco.

Finally, trade bodies like the Tamil Film Producers Council and Nadigar Sangam intervened to sort out the issue. Kamal Haasan, after the Dubai premiere, flew back late on Friday and by Saturday morning, everything was sorted out. The film opened yesterday, with matinee shows all over India.

The actual reason for the film not releasing on May Day was due to the wrangle between the producers Thirrupathi Brothers and their financiers. Uttama Villain was originally started more than a year ago by Thirrupathi Brothers, director N. Lingusamy and his brother N. Subash Chandrabose on a first copy basis with Kamal Haasan’s Raaj Kamal Films International. During the production, the producers suffered losses when their Suriya-starrer Anjaan bombed at the box office.

The cascading financial issues forced Thirrupathi Brothers to take funding from Eros International, and days before the release, Studio Green agreed to market the film. Thirrupathi Brothers had also borrowed from various local financiers, promising them films distribution areas. In fact, a week before release, R. Thangaraj of Thangam Cinemas took Thirrupathi Brothers to court for non-payment of Rs. 2 crore. The matter was sorted out, but as per sources, the film was in deficit to the tune of nearly Rs. 20 crore at the time of release. The financiers were unwilling to waive a part of the loan for a smooth release. The overseas release of the film happened as the rights for that territory belonged to Raaj Kamal, while the Indian theatrical rights were with Thirrupathi Brothers.

The Uttama Villain release fiasco has tarnished the image of Kollywood and all unions and producers are unhappy. It is not the first time a Tamil film has missed the release day. Vijay’s Kaavalan (2011), due to financial issues, had morning and noon shows cancelled, but managed to make it on the opening day with matinee shows. Similarly, last year, Jayam Ravi’s Nimirndhu Nil, facing huge deficit, had a delayed evening release. Vishal’s Madha Gaja Raja (MGR), which was to release for Pongal 2014, never made it to screens due to financial issues and is still lying in the cans.

Trade experts believe that the much-hyped Uttama Villain lost roughly Rs. 8 to 10 crore from the India market on May 1. The film was to release in nearly 1000 screens across India in Tamil and Telugu. The opening-day figures for a big film are not only huge but can never be repeated.

The producers should have sorted out the issue at least a week before release, as they knew that the film was on deficit. Thanks to the producers’ delay and subsequent issues, Uttama Villain was said to have been bought for Rs. 55 crore on first copy basis and with another Rs. 5 crore for print and publicity. It was also overpriced for a “class film”, as the trade would say, which has limited appeal and will not go down to B and C markets.

Sarath Kumar, Nadigar Sangam chief, said, “The very design of production is to be looked at again, in terms of cost-effectiveness and budget. That is the only solution.” Sarath Kumar is bang on, as budgets and revenue recovery are the biggest problems facing the industry. There is a huge gap between projected revenue and actual earnings. The producers still make films on Rs. 100-crore budgets, thinking the collections will match those of a Hindi big-budget film. Tamil cinema revenue, from worldwide rights, is only 30 per cent of that of a Bollywood film.

A top Chennai financier specialising in big movies said, “The whole system is crumbling. Earlier, the financier-producer-big hero relationship worked on trust, and a commitment that if a film failed, the hero would do another film at a lower price and bail out all concerned. Today, a new set of producers, who do not understand the basics of finance and budgeting, have taken over. The star is only concerned about money and 60 to 70 per cent of a film’s budget goes towards the salary of the star. The return on investment is virtually nil.”

The two sensational hits of the year are Raghava Lawrence’s Kanchana-2 and Mani Ratnam’s O Kadhal Kanmani. Kanchana-2, made on a budget of Rs. 17 crore, is a mega blockbuster that will make nearly Rs. 50 crore from Indian theatres alone, as the Tamil and Telugu versions are hits.

The satellite and overseas rights and remake rights are added bonuses. On the other hand, O Kadhal Kanmani, made on a budget of Rs. 6 crore, is said to have done business worth three times its production cost from theatricals, overseas, audio and satellite rights. Both the films, with no big stars and made in different genres and shot on a tight budget, have worked big time, becoming profitable for producers and all right holders.

The Uttama Villain release fiasco is an eye-opener for Tamil film producers. They should cut down on costs and also realise the importance of sticking to a release date. Fast and Furious 8 has already announced that it will hit screens worldwide on April 14, 2017. Meanwhile, Tamil producers do not know what next Friday’s releases are.


Kamal and controversies

Uttama Villain is not the first film to be embroiled in problems. Controversy courts Kamal Haasan almost every time he makes a film.

'Trouble, controversies always follow me' “I feel I’m always targeted. It has happened in the past too," the Ulaga Nayagan said.

Uttama Villain: the story till now

  • --> Veteran Director K. Balachander is said to have made a cameo in the film
  • --> The first look of movie churned out a controversy when the Theyyam-inspired poster was compared to the work of a French photographer.
  • --> "Theyyam is a 1000-year-old Indian art form; I don’t need to copy it from a French photographer," Kamal said in retaliation.
  • --> Indian National League had launched a complaint against the movie, claiming that it will hurt religious sentiments
  • --> The Madras HC dismissed a petition by VHP seeking a stay on the release of film along with the deletion of a song about Lord Vishnu.

'Will cherish the experience of directing Kamal forever'
says Ramesh Arvind

Actor-filmmaker Ramesh Aravind says Kamal-starrer "Uttama Villain" has made him a better human being.

> Film producers to repay loan before April 28
> VHP calls for ban on 'Uttama Villain'
>Plea to ban Uttama Villain dismissed

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 2:38:57 PM |

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